What is privilege?

I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a boss and an employee, a consultant and a writer, a producer and a creator, a business owner and a networker. I am a friend and a confidant, a cousin and a niece, a mentor and a girlfriend. I am a facilitator of connections and possibilities and progress. I am a dreamer. I am a community builder and an equality advocate. I was recently a student and I am now a graduate. I am a coach. I am a white woman. 

I am a white woman. 

Last month I flew to Napa to capture interviews with Latin American leaders and bosses and businesses owners and creators for a documentary I am producing. We talked about equality. We talked about the lack of equality. We cried listening to Leslie Miley talk about his journey through Silicon Valley as a black man.  We rolled our eyes at the ridiculousness that we are still talking about diversity, or the lack there of. 

I am a privileged, white woman. 

I am a college graduate and a daughter of a PHD. My parents raised me to look words up in the dictionary, speak my mind, strive for greatness and to come home at curfew.  They taught me right from wrong and said, "I don't want to see your name in the paper unless it's for the honor roll. Your name is all you have. Don't disgrace the family name."

I am a well educated, privileged, white woman. 

I am the granddaughter of Italian immigrants. A generation or so removed from a gas station owner and an 8th grade educated floor mopping, daily church going, private chef (if you count the thousands of meals she cooked for the family). "Get an education", they told my father, "They can't take that away from you". 

I am a well educated, third generation, privileged, Italian woman. 

I am the daughter of an Irish/Lithuanian daughter of a Deacon in the Catholic church. A church and a prayer, a smoker and a joker and a pear tree raised my mother to be a diversity preaching, community building, life saving therapist. She died from cancer at the age of 54. 

I am a motherless, well educated, third generation, privileged, Italian, Lithuanian, Irish woman.

Lately I have been reading headlines about sexual harassment law suits and pay offs. "I wonder if I should share my stories of sexual harassment, too?" I say to close friends. 

Privilege is so relative. When I think about equality it does become so complicated.  The judgements, the assumptions, the bias.  The fear and the broken system and the competition and the striving to hold on to the little power we all tell ourselves we have. 

When we break it down, when we look back generations and generations and generations, where does it begin? Where does the separation start? When do you become better than me and me better than you and them better than us and us better than them? 

What makes you afraid to walk home alone at night? The black man on the street corner or the simple reality that you are a woman?  

Have you thought about why that black man is on the street corner begging for food? I have. It's not an easy weight to carry. A lot less easy for him. Easier to ignore, I know. 

The simplicity of diversity does not come from our approach to running our businesses or changing our hiring policies. Policy is not necessarily the problem, yet it can be a catalyst for a fire we can't seem to stop from spreading.

The simplicity of diversity is about remembering that we all came from somewhere else. It is about remembering that the human condition is our common ground. 

When you are up I may be down but when you are down I may be up. Change is constant. 

I don't presume to have the answers to the questions. I don't presume to know the solutions to our problems. Before my mother died she taught me to open the door for those that need a place to stay. I find myself wrapped up in smaller things without her here and sometimes I forgot how easy it really can be to just open the door and welcome someone in. 

When privilege is used to help others altruistically the benefits are endless. A ripple occurs. 

You can tell me it is complicated but I am not so sure it is. 

I am a privileged white woman. But I am also so much more. The scars that I wear from the things that I have seen or overcome are hidden behind my style and grace. "Your name is all you have", they told me. I took them very seriously. 

My privilege is that I am awarded the opportunity to cover my scars (and my history) with department store clothing and well framed degrees. That doesn't necessarily or tangibly separate me from the black man on the street corner except that we say it does, except that we give value to department store clothing and well framed degrees assuming that without those things you have little value at all or that the access to those things are inherently equal. Assuming that the chase of the "American dream" is started on equal ground. 

I guess the question we could start with is, how are you privileged? 


Teresa SabatineComment